Thursday, June 03, 2010

Nikki Haley Is Being Railroaded

cross-posted at Dagblog

Let me start with this: I don't want Nikki Haley to be Governor of South Carolina. No way. No how. I don't especially want her to win her primary, and I would actively root for her defeat in the general election. But the way Haley is being treated is dead wrong.

I don't want Haley to become Governor because I think her ideas are mistaken and misguided. I don't think modern conservatism leads to good policies. So I hope she loses. But the question of whether or not she's perfectly faithful to her husband has nothing to do with what kind of leader she would be.

Haley has now had two Republican political operatives come forward to boast that they've slept with her: first the conservative blogger Will Folks, who claimed that he was forced to blog about this because a local newspaper was going to expose it (like that makes sense), and now a lobbyist named Larry Merchant, who came forward just because. The circumstances of the accusation are absolutely bizarre. I can't recall another case where the alleged sex partners volunteer this kind of information, unless they're being paid by a scandal rag. Folks's and Merchant's motives remain an interesting question. But the bigger question is: who the hell cares?

If Haley has had relationships outside her marriage, that's a problem for her to work out with her husband. It has absolutely nothing to do with how she would serve the people of South Carolina. That's true whether she's a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat. People can be good governors and problematic spouses, or wonderful spouses but catastrophic governors. If I thought Haley could lead South Carolina into a new golden age of prosperity but would be cuckolding her husband while she did it, I'd urge South Carolinians to elect her. If she were a model of married chastity but ruined the state during her term, that seems like a pretty bad deal for the voters. They are separate issues. And if I think this when it's my candidate getting dragged through the mud, I'm obligated to speak up when it's someone from the other side being dragged. The way Nikki Haley is being treated is wrong. Both she and the voters of South Carolina deserve better.

There are some cases in which sex scandals incidentally cast light on fitness to lead, but for a scandal to be fair game it has to have lead to some real misuse of office. If politicians use public money to enrich their lovers, that's a scandal. If they're sleeping with the lobbyists who lobby them, that's a scandal. Mark Sanford's trips to Argentina are a problem because he neglects his public duties to take them; the Governor of South Carolina can't just disappear for a week because he's in love. Eliot Spitzer's sex life is a problem partly because prostitution is illegal but mostly because the prices were so high that he had to launder money to pay, which means supporting the dirty banking that enables other, uglier crimes. But sleeping with Will Folks doesn't harm the people of South Carolina; it only harms his partner's self-esteem. (Sleeping with Will Folks is probably its own punishment.)

I'm also disturbed by the way even the usual vicious rules of the scandal game have changed because the target is a woman. I don't recall any male politician, ever, having someone inside his own party's political establishment stepping forward to smear him. Either investigative journalists dig up their own proof, or tabloid journalists pay an aggrieved ex-girlfriend who has no prospects of her own left. (Gennifer Flowers wasn't going anywhere in politics. Neither was what's-her-name Hunter.) What's shocking here is that two men who expect to have futures in the Republican Party feel free to smear a Republican front-runner. They don't even need to offer proof; they just say they've slept with her, like they're bragging in the locker room. The double-standard here is pretty hard to miss: extramarital sex is imagined as much more shameful for the woman than for the man. These men figure they can end a female politician's career just by publicly saying, "Yup, I did her," but only suffer a mild setback for themselves. [UPDATE: My main man Wolfie sees through the double-standard in record time.] Seriously, can you imagine a female Congressional staffer coming forward all on her own to bring down a gubernatorial candidate from her own party, and ever getting work inside the party again? But evidently Folks and Merchant believe (and expect others to believe) that Nikki Haley should be a hundred times more ashamed of sleeping with them than they're ashamed of sleeping with her. And you know what? In a certain way, they're right.

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